Monday, August 30, 2010

Kyoto Station - Looking for the Forest in the Sky

29th October, 2006 - After a quick walk around Tō-ji, T-chan and I met up again to have closer look at Kyōto Station. It's strange that such a focal point of travel in and around Kyōto can often be overlooked. It's not as if Kyōto Station is exactly non-descript. It stands out like a sore thumb - in a good way (of course).  It's a massive building, occupying 238,000 m2, and is some 470 m long and about 70 m high. That's one very large train station. Built in 1997, it is a sign of the modern in an otherwise traditionalist town. If you come to Kyōto, you will invariably come here at some point.

You can find a very nice view from the very top of the station. A wide expansive view of modern Kyōto - now burdened with concrete and steel, all competing with glass to block out the sky. It is a city undergoing growing pains. And yet for all this post-WWII urbanisation, there remains a touch of magic. A small bamboo forest can be found on the top floor. A lone solitary reminder of the beauty of nature that surrounds the city.

The building houses 11 floors of restaurants, department stores, cinema, hotels, clothing stores, convenience stores, post office, tour operators - even a Mister Donuts- and if you're in need of guidance, there's a foreign tourist help centre (8th floor). My only question is - why put the tourist help centre near the top of the building. Because we'd done a lot of research on what we wanted to see, we didn't find the help centre that helpful.... but it's worth popping into see what's happening around the time you go.

Christmas in October in Japan... just in case you wondered what it would look like...

The open-air atrium-like structure is an interesting architectural feature - that can also double as a half-decent amphitheatre. You have the choice of escalator or stairs... As a  theatre, I'd recommend sitting on the stairs. Also, don't expect to find too many bins here. Not sure if this is all a post-terrorism thing, or a cost-cutting thing... it is an annoying thing however.

It's a long way down to the bottom... and if you're like me and heights aren't your strong-point, you might be thinking that architecture is for those that don't struggle with... er... don't struggle with.... um... ok... I'm unlikely to get work here cleaning all of these windows.

As I said - the building is not exactly discreet. It is however nice that the city, renowned for it's 1200 years of history, could embrace (even reluctantly) the modern designs of Kyōto Station. I also have a soft-spot for some of the modern Japanese architecture. The architect, Hara Hiroshi, also designed the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka (we'll see this a bit more later on) and the Sapporo Dome. Good ol' Sapporo... I miss you already.

And near the station stands another of the eyesores landmarks of the city... Kyōto Tower. A 131 m high relic of the 1960's when big was beautiful. And concrete. To be replaced in the 90's by cubism, cut-aways and glass.

Whilst the day started out strange with T-chan getting jiggy with the toilet bowl (morning sickness), we ended up having a very relaxing day walking around the shops and stores. It's not exactly Ginza or even downtown Sapporo for that matter... but it's good place to spend down time... and to find a quiet forest somewhere.
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  1. Just stumbled onto your blog and happy I did! I'm living in Japan with my Japanese husband and although I've only been here a year I discovering new things all the time and loving it! Cheers,

  2. Thanks for the feedback - and welcome aboard. Looking at your profile I see you're from South Africa... you might be interested in checking out Nomad's Land ( which is by a fellow SA gal living in Sappporo.

  3. Pretty!! I've only passed through the station on the train so I've never actually seen the inside.

    I didn't know it was the same architect. Now that you mentioned it I can see the similarities.

  4. I was the same - once I knew who designed it, it was of course! Kyoto Station is a transit point for most people, a conjunction of future and present; where we stand at the brink of experiences dreamed of and those that are remembered.

    Train stations are wonderful places - and I sometimes like to stand around and just watch as people move from one moment to the next. I would love to do a photo series of people in train stations. I thought exactly the same thing at Hachiko statue in Shibuya... there are some places where you see the confluence of so many moments of time... especially at such meeting places where you see so many emotions expressed so freely - the waiting, the anxiety, the boredom, the surprise, the happiness, and the connection of one person with another. Airports are exactly the same environment. We live out the stories of our lives at those points where our lives transition from one state (or location) to another.

    Alas - I'm not that good a photographer, and my imagination is most probably much more interesting than reality. Still, it's something to think about.... but this is a Friday evening musing that will evaporate by Monday morning.